We understand that you might have numerous questions about child custody in Georgia. Our Douglasville child custody lawyers answer frequently asked questions in this Georgia child custody guide. One of the best ways to protect your children is to understand your rights by seeking legal advice from a lawyer.
What Is Child Custody?
Child custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions for their child and have physical care of their child. When a couple is married, both parents share custody of any children born during the marriage. If the parents are unmarried, the mother has sole custody of the child unless the father’s rights are established through legitimation or paternity.
What Is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody in Georgia?
Legal custody refers to a parent’s decision-making responsibility. A parent with legal custody has the right to decide on healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extra-curricular activities for their child. A parent with sole legal custody does not have to seek input from the other parent when making these decisions.
Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with and the parent’s responsibility for providing for the child’s needs and care. A custodial parent is a parent who has primary physical custody of the child. Parents can share joint physical custody, but a child usually lives primarily with one parent.
Do Georgia Courts Give Mothers Preference in Child Custody Matters?
Courts do not presume that mothers should be given priority in child custody cases. Parents begin on equal legal standing in child custody matters. If a parent alleges they should have sole custody, it is the parent’s responsibility to provide evidence that proves the other parent should not be given custody rights.
How Does a Court Decide Child Custody in Disputed Cases?
The overriding concern in child custody cases is the best interest of the child. Judges base all custody decisions on this principle.
Georgia Code Section 19-9-3 lists 17 factors judges must consider when deciding what is in a child’s best interest for custody purposes. Factors include, but are not limited to:
- A parent’s ability to care for the child
- The bond, love, and affection between the child and parents
- The stability of the family unit and the need for continuity in the child’s life
- The physical and mental health of the parents
- Allegations of substance abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence
- The employment schedule for each parent
Judges may consider any factor relevant to the child’s best interest. For example, the judge can consider a child’s reasonable preference if the child is mature enough to make a decision regarding primary custody. The law provides that a child can select the parent they want to live with when they turn 14 years old unless the court determines the parent is unfit to have custody.
Can Child Custody Be Modified?
Changes in circumstances could justify modification of child custody arrangements. A parent must petition the court for a modification order. If the other parent disputes the change in custody terms, the judge decides the matter based on the child’s best interests.
Reasons for modifying child custody include, but are not limited to:
- A child turns 14 years old and desires to live with the other parent
- A parent is relocating a substantial distance from their current residence
- A child or parent will have long-term changes to their schedules
- There is evidence that a parent is unfit to have custody
- A parent is no longer able to care for a child because of a mental or physical impairment
- The child’s needs substantially change
Agreements between parents to change custody terms are not enforceable in court until a judge signs a new child custody order.
Do Parents Have To Pay Child Support in 50-50 Custody Arrangements?
Georgia requires all parents to provide financial support for their children, even if they do not live with them. The time spent with a child is only one factor in calculating child support. Therefore, having 50-50 custody is not the only factor used to calculate child support.
Generally, the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent child support because the child spends more time with the custodial parent. However, there could be exceptions.
Can I Deny Visitation if My Ex Does Not Pay Child Support?
Child support and visitation are separate matters under Georgia law. A parent’s right to see their child is not determined by payment of child support.
Therefore, if a parent denies visitation, they can be held in contempt of court. The parent should talk with a Douglasville child support lawyer about ways to enforce child support payments.
Contact Our Experienced Family Lawyers for Help With Your Child Custody Case
Do you have additional questions about child custody in Georgia? If so, the best source for answers is an experienced Douglasville child custody lawyer.
Contact the Georgia Family Law Firm of Bardley McKnight Law for Help Today
We proudly serve Douglas County and its surrounding areas:
Law Firm of Bardley McKnight Law Offices
12461 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Suite 470
Douglasville, GA 30134